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GOP's attack on 'Charlie Crist loophole' is full of intrigue

Despite Hurricane Irma’s agenda-changing impact on the state, Florida legislators are settling back to their old ways, including tweaking election laws for partisan gain.

A unanimous Senate committee passed a bill Tuesday that tweaks the resign-to-run law that essentially prevents Florida politicians from running for two offices.

The bill (SB 186), by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, requires candidates who run for federal office to resign immediately if terms of the offices overlap. Hutson said his bill would close an election law “loophole” that he did not discuss in detail.

That “loophole” dates to the 2007 legislative session, when then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist was being mentioned as a vice-presidential running mate. Republicans tweaked the resign-to-run law to allow Crist to run for VP without having to resign as governor, but then-Sen. Charlie Justice of St. Petersburg widened the loophole to include “persons seeking any federal public office.”

Fast forward to now: The most visible lawmaker who would be affected by closing the loophole is Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who’s seeking the seat in Congress being vacated by retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Rodriguez beat Republican Miguel Diaz de la Portilla last year to win a four-year seat and put a Senate seat back in Democratic hands.

Closing the loophole would require Rodriguez to resign two years early, forcing a special election for the District 37 Senate seat and giving Republicans a chance to put it back in the GOP column.

In the wake of Democrat Annette Taddeo’s victory in last week’s Senate special election in Miami, the GOP wants to stop any Democratic momentum,

Rodriguez said “a lot of voters scratch their heads” over a resign-to-run law that treats federal candidates differently from state candidates. “It was carved out for Charlie Crist,” Rodriguez said after voting for the bill Tuesday afternoon.

A dry Senate staff report on the bill lays out the change neatly: “It decreases the chances that state senators and House members will consider a congressional run.”